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Turkey: Fairness Discussion May Postpone Ocalan Trial

Istanbul, 31 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's top officials have hinted that the treason trial of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan might be postponed until the country's new parliament changes legislation governing the state security courts where Ocalan will be tried.

The hints have come from both President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Earlier, the European Union and human rights organizations demanded that Ocalan be given a fair and open trial. The EU is especially objecting to the structure of Turkey's state security courts, where a military judge chairs the court along with two civilian judges.

In a televised speech, President Demirel said this week that Turkey should consider any criticism directed against the way the Ocalan trial is being conducted, otherwise, Turkey might face difficulties in its bid to enter the EU.

"And a problem the country faces is the [Ocalan] trial. It should be done in a manner that nobody is able to criticize. Nobody can object to the court's verdict, but if there are any justifiable criticisms, we would not be able to insist on being included in Europe if we dont answer those criticisms."

After such comments by both president and prime minister, Ocalan's lawyers requested postponement of the trial, to "clear the way for a fair trial." Ecevit also indicated that the court might accept the request and the trial might be postponed so that the incoming parliament can change the legislation on the state security courts.

The idea of postponing the trial was sharply opposed by the ultra-right Party of Nationalist Action (MHP), which is due to become the junior partner in a new coalition government with Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Liberal Motherland Party of former Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. Ecevit's Justice Minister, Selcuk Oeztek, took a step back by saying that the Prime Minister was "misinterpreted." Oeztek said "the decision to postpone the trial will have to be taken by the state security court itself.

Cevdet Volkan, chief prosecutor of the state security court in Ankara, said that the trial will "certainly" start on May 31, but changes in legislation "might affect the Ocalan case." An attorney with the Turkish Association of Lawyers here in Istanbul, who asked not to be named, said that he expects the trial to start on Monday and be postponed later until legislation on the state security courts is changed.

Ocalan's lawyers have protested what they describe as harsh treatment and restrictions on their defense activities. Some of his lawyers claim to have been beaten by police, and threatened in an effort to get them to withdraw from the case. Ahmet Zeki Okcouglu, head of the 104-member team of lawyers that is defending Ocalan, said that he would not attend the trial to protest the lack of fair conditions for the defense work. Niyazi Bulgan, another of Ocalan's defense attorneys, told RFE/RL that pressure and unfair conditions are mounting.

"Since the beginning of this process we have informed the media very clearly about illegal actions and obstacles to defense activities as well as attacks on us. Since the very beginning we have frequently said that the indicted (Ocalan) and we as his lawyers are missing conditions to prepare for a fair trial, and do the defense work.

In early May, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Turkey to allow international observers to attend the trial. Turkey in the beginning refused foreign observers at the court as "interference" with its internal affairs. However, Turkish media this week announced that observers from parliaments of EU countries, along with reporters from major Western newspapers, agencies and TV stations, will be allowed to attend the trial.

(Second of two features previewing the trial of PKK leader Abullah Ocalan.)